Novels in Brief

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The Independent Culture
Sandro and Simonetta by Richard Burns, Bloomsbury pounds 14.99. A well-researched and imaginative account of Sandro Botticelli's career as painter, lover and madman. The young genuis, '32 years old, a virgin,' apprenticed to Fra Lippo Lippi, gravitates to the house of Marco Vespucci, where he makes love to the mistress, Simonetta. When Simonetta dies of consumption, Botticelli goes bonkers: although crippled, he makes the pilgrimage to Rome, where he encounters as much corruption as in Florence. His travels, equally hallucination and reality, take him through Hell, from which he is delivered by the vision of Simonetta. He dies mad but, through his paintings, triumphant - 'It is little enough. It is enough.' An egocentric Leonardo, a lascivious Fra Lippo and the sinister Borgia are among delightfully convincing walk-on parts.

The Sound of Heaven by Joseph Olshan, Bloomsbury pounds 14.99. James is an oboist studying in Rome, where he works as a part-time tourist guide. He falls passionately in love with fellow-American Diana, and they return to live briefly and tempestuously in New York until James dies of Aids. Narrative details emerge in flashbacks and fast-forwards. James's drunken father used to beat him up and then, overwhelmed with contrition, fondly cleanse him in the bath. Perhaps because of these formative experiences, James has become a bisexual with violent tendencies. Diana, horrified at first, gradually accepts James's proclivities and mutual violence becomes a turn-on for the couple. The deaths of Diana's brother and of James's former (male) lover are the final factors in this history of 'unhealthy' love, coupling, conscience and compassion.

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